Steering the road of adolescence

Just think back to your own adolescent years. You probably remember some highs and some lows, with some bumps along the way? If we imagine adolescence as the road between childhood and adulthood, you might agree that the adolescent road  is complex journey.

And it’s a long road. Adolescence these days is thought to span the ages of eight and twenty eight!

So why is the adolescent journey so complex?

Adolescence is a time of change and transition. Now, change can be exciting, but it can also be daunting. And to make it harder, many of those changes and transitions are happening at the same time…. puberty, school transitions, changes in friendships groups, new subjects to study, challenging experiences, different expectations…

And it to make it harder again, our children are travelling their adolescent journey on a road that is changing at a faster pace than ever before.

Our children have to navigate a faster, busier, wider adolescent road than we did. Just think of the changes that have occurred over this last generation. It’s a road which has given our  children more freedoms, choices and opportunities than we had. But, it’s also a road which has fewer boundaries, established lanes and signposts.  We might describe this road as high opportunity –high risk. It’s a road which adolescents  are struggling to navigate, and you’ve only got to read the latest statistics to see that an increased numbers are ‘crashing’, and at an ever earlier age.

So how should we respond as parents?


To stick with our road metaphor, we could narrow the road? We could limit the freedoms and opportunities in order to limit the risks to our children – but isn’t adolescence about enjoying increasing freedom, autonomy  and experiencing new opportunities?

We could keep our children in the backseat as we navigate the road for them? But isn’t adolescence about equipping our children to move from passenger to independent driver. If we make all their choices for them, are we really equipping them for adulthood?

We could accept that our children will swerve, bump and prang as they try to navigate this road? But what if our children crash – and do serious damage to themselves or others? Surely we should be helping them to read them anticipate and manage the risks ahead?

Perhaps we need take a different approach. Perhaps we need to equip our children to navigate this high opportunity-high risk adolescent road by teaching them to steer.


Like a good driver, an adolescent who learns to steer –  reads the road. They notice other drivers; they pay attention to the changing conditions; they anticipate; they respond to the situation before them. The psychological word for steering is self regulation.

Adolescent self regulation is the ability an adolescent has to purposefully adjust their  response in different situations.  Imagine an adolescent who always steers in one direction; there would be risks for them as a driver wouldn’t there. If we want to equip our children to steer effectively, we have to help them steer their response in different situations. We might describe this skill as making wise choices.

The Steering Parents website will introduce you to four steering skills our children need to self-regulate if they are to make wise choices: Self Disclosure, Trusting Oneself, Trusting Others and Seeking Change.